City Transit Diaries 4: Heritage Streetcars

This is Part 4 in a series expanding on the City Transit project, looking at the different modes of public transportation of the U.S. & Canada in more depth and detail.

Before modern streetcars began their resurgence in the early 2000s, the few streetcars that existed in the U.S. in the latter half of the 20th Century generally operated as “heritage” lines - that is, they utilized restored or replica streetcars from yesteryear.

Heritage streetcar lines differ from a typical streetcar in that they lean more towards tourism than being a functional commuting tool. They often circulate through major downtown landmarks, and sometimes exist in smaller cities that have no other rail transit, serving as a major tourist attraction themselves. In many cases, they don’t connect anything, serving more as a novelty than a mode of transit. Many transit museums and parks operate streetcars on excursion lines around the country in that way.

Still, there are a number of heritage streetcar lines that are useful commuting options, and there continue to be more built. Below are the heritage streetcar lines of the U.S. and Canada that fit this description--in that they have a scheduled route with set stops like a typical transit line, and operate often enough to theoretically be used by commuters.



The Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line is an extension of the Boston Red Line. It is not technically a streetcar line in any sense, other than its use of restored PCC streetcars which used to operate on the MBTA Green Lines. The line formerly was served by commuter rail and converted to use streetcars in 1929. These streetcars are still used largely because the line would have to be substantially rebuilt to accommodate heavier modern vehicles.



The first phase of the CityLYNX Gold Line opened in 2015, and is the second line in Charlotte’s rail transit system. The line utilizes replica Birney streetcars originally built by the Gomaco Trolley Company for a previous heritage streetcar line known as the Charlotte Trolley. This line was converted into Charlotte's Blue Line light rail system in 2010. The Gold Line is planned to be upgraded to modern vehicles as well, as future phases are completed.



The M-Line Trolley is a free heritage streetcar system in Uptown Dallas which first opened in 1989 after some original streetcar rails were uncovered on McKinney Avenue. The system has been expanded as recently as 2015 to 4.6 miles and utilizes a variety of historic streetcars from around the world (shown is "Green Dragon" built for the Dallas Consolidated Electric Street Railway in 1913).



The Edmonton Radial Railway Society operates this 4-stop line between May and October on one of the most unique rides for a streetcar line, across the upper deck of the High Level Bridge across the North Saskatchewan River in downtown Edmonton. The Society operates a collection of restored streetcars on this and other routes (shown is Edmonton 33, which used to operate in Edmonton in the early 1900).


El Paso

The El Paso Streetcar is a 4.8 streetcar system under construction in downtown El Paso, Texas. Its figure-8 route will utilize restored PCC streetcars that once operated in El Paso between 1949 and 1974. Eight of the vehicles had been stored in the desert by the city, and six are being restored by the Brookville Equipment Corporation, which also produces modern streetcars for other cities.


Kenosha, Wisconsin

The Kenosha Streetcar is a 1.7-mile loop that opened in 2000. The system utilizes restored PCC streetcars painted in historic liveries from different cities (Pittsburgh shown). The line has played a major role in the development of downtown Kenosha and is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. There are plans to extend the system further.

Little Rock

The Metro Streetcar (originally the River Rail Streetcar) is a 3.4-mile streetcar system first opened in 2004 that circulates through various attractions in downtown Little Rock, as well as connecting across the river to North Little Rock . The system uses replica Birney streetcars built by the Gomaco Trolley Company which are numbered sequentially after their historic predecessors.


Long Beach, California

The Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Red Car Line is a 1.5-mile line in San Pedro which operated between 2003 and 2015, but is currently non-operational due to major construction projects in the area. The line used three Red Cars, one salvaged from two wrecked vehicles, and two built from scratch. Development plans for the port include resumption and potential expansion of the service.



The MATA Trolley is one of the earliest heritage systems, first opened in 1993 and subsequently expanded twice to 6.3 miles over three lines. The system uses replica and restored vehicles from around the world (Melbourne streetcar shown). Service has been suspended since 2014, after fires in two of the streetcars prompted an investigation and fleet renovation, but is planned to resume this year.

New Orleans

The New Orleans streetcar system is the largest heritage streetcar network in North America, with five lines at a length of 22.3 miles. Streetcars have operated continuously in New Orleans for hundreds of years, with the St. Charles Streetcar Line, opening in 1835, being the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. Each car operating on the line is a historic landmark.



SEPTA's Route 15 is an 8.4-mile heritage streetcar line part of Philadelphia's diverse rail transit network. The line operated from 1859 (first as a horse-drawn line) to 1992 when it was replaced with buses, but streetcar service was restored in 2005. It is the only line in the city's extensive trolley system to operate with rebuilt PCC streetcars.

St. Louis

The Loop Trolley is 2.2 mile heritage streetcar line under construction in the Delmar Loop district of St. Louis. The fleet consists of several vehicles from closed heritage streetcar lines in other cities, including Seattle and Portland (pictured). After years of planning and construction, the line is planned to open later this year.


San Diego

The Silver Line is a heritage streetcar line which operates on a 2.7-mile clockwise loop downtown formed from the tracks of the San Diego Trolley light rail system. Service began in 2011 and currently uses 2 restored PCC streetcars, and only operates on a limited schedule. There are plans to expand service with the addition of five more vehicles.

San Francisco

The F Market & Wharves line may be the most well-known heritage streetcar line in the U.S., operating with very frequent service through large tourist areas of downtown San Francisco. The line began as a yearly historic streetcar festival held during a major rebuild of the cable car system. The festivals proved to be so popular that a permanent line was built in 1995, and the complimentary E Embarcadero line opened later in 2015. The system utilizes an extensive and varied fleet of restored streetcars from around the world, painted in a number of historic liveries (San Francisco PCC streetcar shown).

San Francisco

San Francisco's cable car system is last manually-operated cable car system in the world and an iconic part of the city, largely used by tourists. Of the original 23 lines built in the late 1800s, the remaining system spans three lines and 5.1 miles. The has system operated continuously, save for a 5-year rebuild in the 1980s.



The TECO Line Streetcar System connects downtown Tampa to the historic Ybor City district. The 2.7-mile line system opened in 2002 utilizing a fleet of 11 vehicles, ten of which being replica vehicles built by the Gomaco Trolley Company, and one historic vehicle which previously operated in the city in the early 1900s. It was salvaged after being found used as a shed in a nearby suburb in 1991.